Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Prepare for Successful Chick Brooding - Part One

by Jennifer Burcke

Brooding a batch of chicks is akin to bringing home a newborn child. No matter how many books you have read or people you have talked to, the best experience you gather will come firsthand. Caring for a tiny living being that counts their lifetime in hours or days instead or years can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Being prepared for brooding success can allow you to focus on the wonder and enjoyment of caring for baby chicks.

There are as many philosophies and types of brooding practices and equipment as there are chicken keepers. Everyone has their own method and style of caring for chicks. Again, it is a process a lot like parenting. Your own experiences will inevitably lead to the development of your own technique for brooding baby chicks.

While it would be impossible for me, or any single chicken keeper, to share with you the “best” way to brood chicks, I can share what we have done in the past. Our first batch of chicks are now fast approaching their second birthday. They were our first foray into chicken keeping. When we welcomed them to our farm, we were armed only with the knowledge provided by hours of online research and reading.

This spring, we returned to the brooding experience as more seasoned chicken keepers. We felt a little more confident when preparing to welcome them to our farm. This year, we chose to use many of the supplies from our first brooding experience. We did make a few changes and, in the end, had another successful brooding experience. Our chicks are now two months old and have left the brooder and taken up residence in their small coop in the garden.

To begin with, you’ll need to have supplies on hand to effectively brood a batch of baby chicks. Here at 1840 Farm, we gather the following supplies at brooding time: 

  1.  Brooding pen with a breathable cover 
  2.  Supplemental heat source 
  3. Absorbent bedding 
  4. Thermometer
  5. Chick feeder 
  6. Chick waterer 
  7. Small bowl for grit 
  8. Chick starter feed 
  9. Apple cider vinegar  
  10. Parakeet/small bird grit 
  11. Small branches for perching 
  12. Hand sanitizer 
  13. Camera
In this post, I’ll discuss the first two items on the list: the brooding pen and heat source. Both items are essential for successful brooding. In both cases, you can use items that are already on hand or readily available at your local feed store. If you prefer, professionally manufactured brooding pens and heat sources with additional features can be used.

First, you’ll need to have a safe place to house your chicks. Specialized brooding pens can be purchased and include a variety of convenient and useful added features. You can also repurpose a container that you already have on hand. For our first batch of chicks, we successfully utilized a simple plastic storage tub as our brooding pen. 

When outfitting the storage container to be used as a brooding pen, we realized that we needed some way to cover the top. Baby chicks are very capable flyers. Without a top, we were sure to find the chicks exploring the garage one morning. 

We had a framed window screen that was large enough to span the distance between the walls of the container. It was lightweight enough not to endanger the chicks if it fell, but could be secured to the tub using spring clamps in order to keep them safely contained. It was a serviceable cover and also allowed fresh air to flow freely. 

In my recent post Two Essential Chicken Keeping Tools: Necessity and Invention, I shared the experience of brooding our most recent batch of chicks this spring. The previously used storage container was unavailable. For over a year, it has been used as our feed storage container to keep our chicken and goat feed safe and dry. Instead of purchasing a new container, we got creative and used an empty leaf sweeper as our brooding pen. It worked effectively and will be called into duty the next time we add baby chicks to our farm.

Before your chicks arrive, you’ll also need to decide how to provide them with the supplemental heat they need during their first several weeks. If they were hatched in a coop, a broody mother hen would keep them at the desired temperature by allowing them to huddle beneath her. If you’re raising chicks in a brooding pen, you will need to provide them with another source of heat.

When our first chicks arrived at 1840 Farm, it was the last week of September. Our brooding pen was placed in an unheated garage next to a workbench. The location provided a safe place to keep our chicks away from predators and ample natural sunlight from a nearby window during daylight hours. 

Given the time of year, we didn’t have to be overly concerned about extremely cold temperatures. I knew that our chicks would still require supplemental heat, so I began researching our options. We were new to the world of chickens and while I hoped that we would become lifelong chicken keepers, I didn’t want to make that assumption before they had arrived and made our farm their home.

I made the decision to acquire the necessary equipment without purchasing items that were intended for career chicken keepers. I knew that there were more advanced options for providing heat to baby chicks, but I wasn’t ready to make that leap. Instead, I chose to use a simple heat lamp.

Once I made that decision, it was time to choose which type of bulb to use. I had read several recommendations from experienced chicken keepers that the red heat lamp bulb provided a calmer environment for the baby chicks. The chicks cannot detect the light spectrum emitted from a red bulb, which allows them to have a natural sleep pattern in spite of the light being on 24 hours each day. With this information in hand, I chose to use a red spectrum heat lamp to provide warmth to our baby chicks.

The nearby workbench made an excellent place to anchor the heat lamp assembly we used. In order to allow the light’s proximity to the chicks to be adjusted, I attached a pistol grip woodworking clamp to the bench. Using the bar of the clamp, I could easily move the heat lamp up or down depending on the needs of the chicks.

I found that the spring clamp on the heat lamp was weaker than I would have liked. I worried that it might fall and either injure the chicks or overheat them during the night. I had read accounts of fires caused by heat lamps that had come in direct contact with dry bedding. I had also read stories about brooder lamp failures in the middle of the night that left a batch of chicks huddling together for warmth. 

If you have used a heat lamp in the past, you know that the amount of heat produced is incredible. In fact, the hood on our heat lamp assembly gets so incredibly hot that I wore a pot holder to adjust its position. My children were warned not to touch it. I had no doubt that it had the capability to ignite a fire if allowed to rest on the pine shavings lining our brooder. Suddenly, it became very clear why chicken keepers who have the ability to keep roosters simply allowed mother hens to do the brooding for them.

I was certain that none of my neighbors would tolerate the sound of roosters crowing early in the morning. I also knew that as a family of chicken keepers who raise chickens but don’t eat them, we didn’t have any need for inviting roosters to live on our farm. I was simply going to have to do the best I could to secure the lamp and hope that we didn’t run into any lamp failures. To increase my odds of success, I bought two red lamps: one to use immediately and one to have on hand just in case I found a burnt out bulb on one of my nighttime chick checks.

I solved the weak clamp issue by attached a carabiner clip to the top of the lamp and then running a piece of twine between it and the top of the clamp. While the light assembly could still fall from its position, I could at least feel confident that it would remain on the clamp safely above the brooding pen. 

The light provided ample heat. In fact, it was a lot like having the sun nearby. The entire garage was warming from the lamp. We used a thermometer in the brooding pen to monitor the temperature, moving the light further up the bar on the clamp as needed to reduce the temperature of the brooding pen. 

When we decided to add new chicks to our farm this spring, I began looking at other options for warming up the brooding pen. I was fairly certain that we were now lifelong chicken keepers. I couldn’t imagine not having a coop full of hens, or even more unimaginable: buying eggs at the grocery store. My children couldn’t imagine it either, so it was time to see if there was a more effective way for us to provide heat to the baby chicks that would be calling 1840 Farm home for many years to come.

I am happy to say that I found a brooder that worked efficiently and safely for our chicks this spring. The BrinseaEcoGlow 50 exceeded my expectations in every way. In fact, it worked so well that I can guarantee that it will be used the next time we brood chicks in our makeshift leaf sweeper brooding pen. In my next post, I’ll review the BrinseaEcoGlow 50 and share my experience using it to raise our latest batch of heritage breed chicks.

What do you use when brooding baby chicks? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for ensuring brooding success!

You're always welcome at 1840 Farm. To make sure that you don't miss any of the excitement, giveaways or unending supply of cute photos of baby chicks during the A Year in the Life at 1840 Farm Series, follow us on Facebook to read the daily news from the coop at 1840 Farm.


I said goodbye to Brad today, as he hopped in a cab to Billy Bishop Airport, off to see the boys. He'll have a jam-packed, crazy fun time with them for the next 2 weeks. Finally he gets a break from the support work. It's demanding. No time off. No pay. No perks.

 Ha, ya right...I'm the perk!!

I'm now counting down the hours until Mom, Dad and Shannon (whom I will now refer to as Red) gets here. About 2 hours now!! So excited! I can't wait to show them my life here and fill them in on everything that's been going on in transplant land. I will have to do some extensive training and supervising to ensure they perform the role of "support workers" up to snuff. It will be so draining...;)

I bought myself this sexy beast today:
Ox the Oximeter
I was really only able to guess my sats before, which isn't the best thing. Too little O2 and bye bye! brain cells, too much O2 and hello! carbon dioxide overload. Now, I'm good. I think it's cute and have decided to name it Ox. My creativity is outstanding.

I dropped to 86% from simply walking from the kitchen to the couch. Decided to strap on the O2 before I lose my entire memory and forget to let them in the building. I'm fighting this infection, therefore it's not shocking that my levels are down and my blood sugar levels are up. I just fling some increased insulin at it and it keeps its mouth shut (diabetes gets wonky whenever there is an infection).

I'm thinking back to all of my past Canada Days and I can't remember ever spending one outside of NS. I'm super excited for the holiday celebrations here. I can only imagine the craziness we will get to partake in (or at least watch). I'm not exactly sure on what all is happening in this city this weekend, but I'm sure the fun will start in less than 2 hours!!!

I'm out on my deck and a football just flew from the roof, to the street below. I guess the party has started. Except for the guy who was walking by at the time...suffice it to say, he wasn't running up to have a game of tackle with them.

I wonder if Dad got to wave at Brad as they crossed paths in the sky? Knowing my Dad, he probably ended up sitting in the cockpit yaking with the pilot.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Salmonella: Protecting Yourself and Your Flock

by Rebecca Nickols

The first of May I purchased three adorable chicks from our local hatchery in Springfield, Mo., Estes Hatchery. I chose this hatchery partly because of the variety of birds they had to choose from and the fact that they had a good success rate in sexing chicks. (I'd rather not have a rooster.) This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued this press release: "CDC is collaborating with public health and agriculture officials in many states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Poultry Improvement Plan, and Veterinary Services to investigate an outbreak of human Salmonella Montevideo infections linked to chicks and ducklings from Estes Hatchery in Springfield, Missouri."

A total of 66 people in 20 states have been infected, but the bulk of them are in Missouri. The reported illnesses were between Feb. 28 and June 6. Infected individuals range in age from less than a year old to 83 years old, and 35% of the ill were 10 years of age or younger. In 16 of all the cases, hospitalization was required. One death was reported in Missouri, but salmonella infection was not considered a contributing factor in this person’s death.

Although none of my chickens or my human flock (me, my husband and daughters) have shown any signs of illness or infection, I'm still a little concerned that these young chicks might be carriers of the disease, and either expose the older hens to the bacteria or lay eggs might be tainted. So I've done some research on salmonella and thought I'd pass on what I've learned about how to protect yourself and your flock against this somewhat common, but potentially fatal, disease.

How common are salmonella infections?

Every year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be many times greater, according to the CDC. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.

Who is most at risk?

Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis, and are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than 5 years old is higher than the rate in all other persons. It is estimated that approximately 400 people die each year with acute salmonellosis.

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some cases, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. And according to, a hen sick with salmonella will be immediately obvious: "She will be weak, purple-combed, and have watery diarrhea as well as reduced egg production."

Where does salmonella live?

It’s common for chickens, ducks and other poultry to carry salmonella, a germ that naturally lives in the intestines of many animals and is shed in droppings or feces. Live poultry may have salmonella germs on their bodies (including feathers, feet and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes and clothing of those who handle the birds, or work or play where they live and roam.

Are there long-term consequences to a salmonella infection?

People with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of those with salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called reactive arthritis. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis that is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

The CDC has a few tips on their website for protecting you and your flock:

* Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children. Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.

* Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry without supervision.

* If you collect eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook them, as salmonella can pass from healthy-looking hens into the interior of normal-looking eggs.

* Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.

* If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume where they live and roam is contaminated.

* Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry (such as cages or feed or water containers) outside the house, not inside.

* Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry. (Oops! I'm probably guilty of that one.)
    I'm not quarantining my little chicks. I know that there's always a potential risk of disease with any animal, but sometimes we get a little complacent and neglectful in hygiene when the animal is a pet and considered part of the family. It's a good reminder that cleanliness is essential for both our health and our flock's well-being!

    To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit ...the garden-roof coop.

    Raging Infection

    We went to a dark place yesterday.  I had a yearning to go to the Dollarama (money bags right herrrrr) and we decided to check one out at a different location. Credit to Brad - he didn't think that spot was the best spot to check out, but I said it'd be fine. Well...let's just say it's not a place I'd want to be after dark. Actually, not really a place I'd want to be during daylight either.

    I've been having some difficulties trying to do short walks lately, so it was only natural that I come back and collapse in bed for over an hour. My body has been screaming at me. I push it too far and demand too much; I'm scared it might "de-friend" (un-friend?) me.

    When I woke, Brad was at the park with Griffin, so I decided to tackle dinner. Again, my breathing was getting in the way of my outstanding culinary abilities, so I threw on the O2. When Brad and Griffin got back they had a friend with them. Phineas is a little white dog whom Griffin has declared is his new BFF. Phineas sniffed around for a bit, ate some of the G-man's food, tried to climb up on the stove, then left with his mom.

    Then came the time when everyone meets up at the park with their dogs. I should have known better, after our walk earlier and my non-existing energy. Shame on me, right?

    But, I wanted to go. I love going to the park with the G-man. I love watching all the dogs and petting them. I love interacting with the owners. I love the sense of community.

    Being at the park, watching the dogs, is a type of therapy. It's peaceful, serene and makes me happy. It's been proven that owning a pet reduces stress levels and makes you a happier person, therefore my recommendation is to run out and get yourself one of these:

    I knew as soon as I started walking that things weren't going to end up well. But, as I'm stubborn (thanks Nanny), I do not give up. We made it all the way there, walking about as fast as someone with 3 dozen corns on their feet, but I had to stop several feet away from the group. As they are so sweet, they came to us.

    I managed to pet several of the dogs, from a classy squatting position, but was unable to speak very much due to my laboured breathing. Things went from bad to ridiculous. I stood up from "the squat" and gazed up at Brad, trying to communicate via my eyeballs.

    It worked!

    He knew there was no way I was making it home on my own. I climbed on his back, while 2 of our new friends grabbed Griffin and the O2 tank.

    Suddenly, we are the sideshow freaks of the day!

    I will not lie - I was afraid. Afraid that I was getting really sick. I've been through the can't breathe, fingers and lips turning blue, please-put-me-out-of-my-misery-now stuff's not something I want to repeat. I'd much rather go to New York City and meet Trump (does that shock you?) or go back to 'The Hulk' at Islands of Adventure:

    Best ride everrrr!
    Brad got me up to our floor and put me down next to the elevator while he ran to get the wheelchair. We were merely steps from the elevator, but this lazy girl was not getting there on her own. He finally gets me in the door, throws me in bed, straps on my O2 and hands me my aerosol. My prince charming :)

    I felt much better this morning, which was great because I was worried about physio today. Yaaa...turns out I had reason to be worried. It was not my best performance; as in - there were no standing ovations today. I managed to go 5 minutes on the treadmill before that was put to a halt as my O2 dipped to 85-87% (I need to be above 90%). I then attempted the bike, but the physiotherapist quickly shut that down as well due to my breathing. If there was a fast breathing competition today I would have had it in the bag. I can sense your jealousy; it's embarrassing, get a hold of yourselves.

    Needless to say, physio was cut short and I placed a call to the CF clinic. Unfortunately, there is no way around it. I have an infection. Such crusty timing as Mom, Dad and Shannon are coming tomorrow. I'm been given an oral antibiotic, but if the infection is still as bad by Tuesday morning, I'll be heading in to clinic.

    The silver lining is this monster:

    Horse pill anyone?

    After we got back from physio we had to take the G-man out, so I waited in the park for Brad to run upstairs and grab the furry guy. To my surprise and entertainment, this is how they came out:

    Griffin stealing my thunder

    Excited for my company tomorrow and excited for the boys to see their dad - Brad's going back to NS for 2 weeks. I can't wait to crack the whip on my new support workers!! Be afraid very afraid.